A Volunteer's Experience at Baan Unrak
This article by Anne Cheng was provided courtesy of the
Go Make A Difference organization.
I completed a week
long-stint of volunteering in an orphanage in Sangkhlaburi, a town 500 km
from Bangkok, near the Three Pagoda Pass gateway to Myanmar.
With the Burmese government taking control of the Burmese side of the border
area from the Karens and the Mons, any civilian with any inkling of a
connection to the Karens or Mons is automatically suspected of supporting
the rebel armies.
It was in this village where I had the opportunity
to visit a refugee camp that housed 3500 Burmese, Karen and Mon refugees.
Many have fled to Thailand with nothing more than the
clothes on their backs.
Desperate and penniless, some see no other
alternatives but to sell their children--either in the sex trade or into
Some work long and hard and don't ever see their wages
because they are paying off the police to prevent being sent back to
At Baan Unrak, or “House of Happiness,”
I taught English to these children who were unscrupulously taken advantage of,
abused, or abandoned.
During this 6-day “English Camp,”
we visited the Mon settlements (former refugees
who are given temporary permits to live and work in selected areas),
picked bananas to give to the children in the refugee camp, visited
Myanmar and went swimming and boating on the lake.
One glance at
these children and you would think they are like any other well-adjusted
teenagers, but try to get to know them and they will be very guarded about
their personal life.
These teens are grown-up beyond their age and
are very cautious about whom they can trust.
However, by the end of the week,
they were ready to move back to Canada with me.
Didi Devamala, perhaps the only
mother-figure to some children, has opened Baan Unrak to 50 children and 3
It was through talking with Didi that I learned about some of
the children's pasts.
Didi has accepted the children who are in most
need of her care, and has had to turn away others due to financial and
The teenagers who I taught did go to school, but
because the schools are already too crowded with local children, my
students, intelligent thought they are, are not allowed to go to school
Instead, they can only go 2 or 3 times a week.
Thus, they were extremely willing to learn and showed great enthusiasm as
had not been displayed by my Japanese students.
As well, since we did not teach in a classroom setting,
but instead went to various places each day,
we actually had much to talk about and we were able to make
conversation about the various places we were in.
Back at the orphanage,
the younger children simply latched onto me instantly.
It would be dubious if their peals of laughter weren't heard
throughout the entire town.
I really didn't know much about the
hardships of living in Myanmar until I visited the refugee camp.
Most foreigners are not allowed into the camp, as it is guarded, but
because one of the girls knew one of the guards, I was able to slip in.
Once inside, everyone was so gracious and friendly.
I was given a tour of the camp, and the schools by the English teacher there.
He told me that in Myanmar, he was a physician, but he had an outside
business in which he dealt with the Karens, since he was half-Karen.
Because of his business connections, he was suspected of
aiding the Karens, and he had to flee the country.
The experiences I had while at Baan Unrak were simply incredible.
I went to so many places I could not have gone to if I was a tourist.
I met and talked with people whom I now consider friends,
and if offered the opportunity again, I would accept it in a heartbeat.
I can say that in my 2 weeks in Thailand, the
week spent in Sangkhlaburi was definitely the most worthwhile experience.